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Apr 26, 2013

Coming Home

So I included a lengthy article about trying to re-adapt to coming home after living abroad..probably more than you want to read but if you are interested in knowing what I am feeling, it is pretty accurate minus the time frames. Yes, I am so happy to be home, but it is really hard coming back. You feel alone in the place you should not. Jet lag, of course, sucks, but constant tiredness amplifies the removal of where you lived. It is hard to communicate and use the right words in your native tongue.

Everything should be normal but it feels amiss.

That being said, if I haven't seen you, I can't wait to and if I have, it has been wonderful. I am just trying to re-acclimate.


Returning to the homeland involves more than packing and farewell parties. Psychological preparation for re-entering the home country is just as important. However, the issue of "reverse cultural shock" is often overlooked by returning individuals and families.
Stanley and his wife Karen have just spent six years in a developing, predominantly Muslim, conservative Third World Asian country.

Moving back to their native Scotland is obviously going to be something of a shock. But because it is "home", they do not anticipate the adjustments they will have to undergo to fit back in to their chilly northern European society.
Returning home after an extended stay abroad is both exciting and stressful. After all the physical and mental strain of packing, shipping, tying up loose ends and leaving, one looks forward to arriving and quickly settling down in a comfortable, familiar environment. In actual fact, once they have returned home the hard part has just begun, something which takes most returning expatriates by surprise.
Reverse cultural shock is actually more difficult to deal with than the original cultural shock experienced when entering a new land. This is because most people don't anticipate the need for adjustment when returning to their home country.
In order to understand reverse cultural shock a person needs to remember what they actually went through in the initial cultural shock when entering a foreign country:
ELATION - Usually during the first several weeks in a new culture everything is fresh and new. A newcomer feels excited and elated.
HOMESICKNESS - When the excitement wears off, a person is confronted with daily life in the new society, where everything can be quite different from back home. Some people refuse to adapt to the new culture, associating only with their own crowd and remaining aloof from the local population.
TRANSFORMATION - After about nine months, they feel more familiar with the environment and begin to see the good side of the new culture. They gradually adopt the new ways of living. Sometimes people in this stage may go to another extreme, rejecting their own culture and viewing everything back home as "unsophisticated" or not as attractive.
ACCULTURATION - When people learn how to integrate the "old" and "new", they can fully appreciate their own origin as well as the new culture.
When expatriates relocate back home after having been away for a long time, they are likely to experience similar stages of acculturation. This is called "reverse cultural shock":
ELATION - Welcomed back by long-missed family members and friends makes a returnee feel secure, knowing this is his or her "real" home. They can enjoy driving on a big wide road or strolling along the street without fighting crowds. Things seem so pleasant and calm at home. Such feelings remain for the first several days or weeks.
RE-ENTRY SHOCK - Fitting right in to the "home" circle and returning to "normal" life doesn't happen overnight. The fact is, a recent returnee will feel very different from everyone around. This will make him or her feel delighted and special on one hand, but on the other it brings confusion and a sense of isolation.
For example, Stanley is very eager to point out that "I've just returned from five years overseas." By doing so he knows he can draw others' attention and reassures himself that he is unique, interesting and different. It's easy to overdo it, though. Even cashiers and waiters are not exempt from his frequent asides that, "Ha ha. I forgot that's how they do things here."
Family and friends will demonstrate interest in the returnee's adventures, anecdotes and little comparative comments, but only for as long as their attention span can tolerate. At a family dinner, Stanley finds that the relatives are not nearly as fascinated at hearing about the night bazaars and morning prayer calls in Jakarta, as they are in hearing Auntie Bertha from Inverness describe Uncle Ralph's hernia operation.
To many returnees, this apparent disinterest is a great surprise. It is also a disappointment that leads to feeling disoriented and isolated.
In some cases returned expatriates carry their feeling of being special too far. They may tend to pick on friends and people in general for being narrow-minded about the world, or unsophisticated. They will repeatedly draw comparisons between home and the foreign country. For example, saying at restaurants: "This isn't real Chinese food," or constantly remarking: "You know how cheap that would be back in Indonesia?" Or "Wait a minute, let me work out how much that would be in Indonesian rupiahs." Such commentary will eventually annoy and bore others, who will take it as showing off. These actions will keep people at a distance and make it difficult to readjust to the old circle.
Most people are oblivious to whatever changes may have gone on inside a person from living abroad. For the most part, friends and family believe that you still think and act exactly the way they do, as if you'd never left. The returnee may therefore feel inhibited from saying or doing anything that could appear "show-offy". He or she may be reluctant to discuss any feelings of disappointment or disorientation at being back, for fear nobody will understand.
METAMORPHOSIS - The former expatriate literally has to shed one skin for another. They are in the transitional process of losing their expatriate identity, yet without having totally re-established a true sense of identity for themselves.
Faced with the day-to-day routine, they often begin to long for the favorable lifestyle once enjoyed in the foreign land. The travel, climate, servants, cultural experiences, mingling with an international group of expatriates, as well as the social status and the "special" treatment they usually received are missed. A returnee may begin to think back to the good old days. He or she may even refuse or resent readjusting to the lifestyle of the home country.
Such a phenomenon is often reinforced by having lost touch with the trends, fashions, popular music and movies, and local politics back home. Such disorientation can easily make people lose their balance and feel stupid, vulnerable and alienated. It can lead individuals to conclude that returning was a bad choice.
READAPTATION TO HOME CULTURE - Given time, returned expatriates will re-familiarize themselves with the home environment and appreciate what is there. They finally accept what they have given up in the foreign society and are happy to settle down at home.
This will be a gradual process rather than a distinct stage that a person goes through. Readaptation will not take place until the individual has passed through the above three stages and is able to understand what is going through his or her own mind.
Understanding the stages of reacculturation does not necessarily make it easier or pleasant to endure. However, reminding yourself when things seem tough that, after all, what you are going through is only normal, is the best - and only - way to deal with reverse cultural shock. It is vital to avoid becoming too skeptical or cynical about the return home and not to run away before giving yourself and family members a chance to cope with the re-entry.

Apr 16, 2013

Organized Chaos or Just Chaos?

What do you do when the fish you are carrying in an open bucket/bowl full of water on your moped spontaneously jumps out of the water and into the middle of the road of a major intersection?

Why the obvious answer--you stop your moped in the straight middle of the road with cars, mopeds, and bicycles dogging you as you hop off the moped and catch the fish off the road and put it back in the bucket!

This example is just one of many that defines everyday life in China.  John consistently said while he was here, "This isn't organized chaos; it's just chaos."  While in some respects, this is true.  I think that the Chinese are just pragmatic to the point of creating chaos so it's somewhat organized.  It just certainly doesn't seem that way to a Westerner.

The man needed that fish for his family to eat for lunch so he stopped and captured it.  I think this is the approach that everyone takes it China right now.  That's why there is always a sense of urgency and get things done now now now.  

Thoughts for the day...

Mar 26, 2013


Singapore is awesome! Just look at the hotel pool! Everything is perfectly manicured and looks new throughout the city. Plus, I can read again! All of the signs are in English!

Just wait until I post pictures of my room!

Mar 24, 2013

5 countries in 6 days

That's right. This morning I left Shanghai, China for Hong Kong. I will be in Hong Kong until early
Tuesday morning and then I fly to Singapore. Wednesday, I fly to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in the morning and return to Singapore that afternoon. Friday night , I fly to Bali, Indonesia. Just writing that was utterly exhausting. I can't imagine what the week will actually be like. Should definitely be exciting though.

So yesterday in Shanghai, I walked 20km with the Corporate Marketing team at Ecolab China and Elaine. I think I saw more of Pudong than I could have imagined. Pudong is the business center and city of the Laowai or foreigners. The neighborhoods look like mini-Western villages complete with brick homes if you're into American style homes, Spanish tiled stucco if you like the Southwestern/Spanish feel, French style homes, and all complete with a million mini vans. It's rather off putting to be honest. That becomes the issue with being in China and speaking Chinese. As I mentioned, I was with work friends...therefore the conversation was primarily in Chinese not English. Believe it or not, I got about 75% of what was said and could fill in the rest. So we're walking and talking and of course we see foreigners and we're all like Lao wai, Lao wai....mind you I'm obviously American. I have just ceased to feel that way in some respects. It becomes a very interesting dynamic of trying to navigate both around the city and in your head what you are to expect, do, say, etc. This is what makes coming back from China and reverse culture shock so difficult. For a brief moment in time, you are no longer what yourself considers yourself and you've transformed into (well at least for me) what you've always wanted...to be Chinese and engrossed in this ever changing millennia old civilization. Now, this part gets dicey because fundamentally, I will always be on the outside. I am white and therefore not part of the culture. It's nice, however, when for a few moments I can pretend.

So enough about me wanting to fall into China, on Friday, I'll be in Bali with John. This is super exciting. I can't wait to not think and just drink, eat, and sun tan. It's been so cold in Shanghai that the sudden shift to 80 degrees in HK and SEA is a bit rough. Lord, I am hot!

The skyline in HK is beautiful with tall buildings and majestic mountains in the background. Forgot about that...

Mar 13, 2013

Bars in Asia

So I've noticed this trend that people in Asia don't eat or drink alone at the bar. Currently, the Japanese bartender at my hotel thinks I am a total dingbat. I am sitting alone at the bar and I've ordered OMG 2 glasses of wine by myself. The look of utter bewilderment and disgust was priceless and a bit off putting. Yes, I am a foreigner and blond and a woman and I drink alone if I'm traveling alone. I don't want to sit alone in my room and work...I do that almost every night. I know culturally it's different...eating and drinking is relationship development or guanxi in Chinese. It's a social occasion. So a rather odd/random question, how does one pick up someone at the bar in Asia if everyone is in a group? Food for thought...not for me though! In T minus 17 days I'll be with my sweetheart in Bali! Yay! Like the pics?! I can't wait!

Mar 12, 2013

In Japan

So my hotel in Japan makes my apartment in Shanghai look huge! Just arrived at my hotel in Tokyo and I have to admit I was surprised. Japan looks more like America in terms of trees, green space, and the size of buildings. There are House Rules listed in the hotel book...no moral misconduct allowed and no loud or drunken behavior. Never seen that before. More to come later-it's late and I've been sick. Need to listen to Elaine and Chiori and rest. Hope you like the pics!

Mar 5, 2013

Mexican and real Chinese food

Nothing like going to a Mexican Restaurant in China...you never know what to expect. Could be real bad or real good. Guess we'll just have to see. It is rather odd to see a bunch of Chinese in Mexican garb running around like mad. Had a long long day at work. Yesterday didn't end until 130am and I didn't get to sleep until after 2, then I had a conference call at 530am. Nothing like running on nothing and feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Heard an African man speaking really excellent Chinese while walking to dinner. Miraculously, I even understood what he was saying. Funny though, you can almost always tell just by sound if the person speaking Chinese is a laowai or a Chinese. The sound is just off. I say this knowing perfectly well I definitely sound off and way not Chinese. The trying part is always most important whether it be using chopsticks, trying strange foods, or whatever.

Watching America's Funniest Home Videos in China, in a Mexican restaurant, well how bizarre. Exactly how is AFV related to Mexico? Apparently,it takes longer to cook Mexican in China as well. Restaurants are also really not equipped for single diners. They really just have NO clue how to deal. And the Mexican isn't good or at least the Chimichanga. I think they have a specific waitress that delivers Coronas too. And I don't think the TV is through cable or satellite-it's streamed through a knock off site on the web. Awesome...that's how I have to watch TV too. Trouble is I don't really watch TV...so I don't know what to search for. I really only watch documentaries and those aren't quite as popular to hack and then post.

Feel better about eating Mexican tonight. I had a real Chinese meal with 2 tofu dishes, cabbage, beef liver that was super spicy, a whole hacked up Chicken, and other stuff.

Mar 3, 2013

Feb 25th

It's so interesting to be sitting in a wine bar in Shanghai listening to Chinese people talk about the differences between Beijing people and Shanghai people. And for me to immediately think, I am definitely a Beijing ren- how I speak, how I give directions, probably even how I think. I'm also confused as to how I'm in the most quiet neighborhood in China. I've never seen a place in China be shut down at 10pm. I walked almost my entire immediate neighborhood and everything is closed. Apparently, the only thing open is this wine bar. I have to admit hearing English is a bit disorienting. I have to pay so much attention to catch every word when listening to Chinese so that to understand instantaneously seems foreign. I also have noticed that I want to rearrange English words to the Chinese syntax or word order. I also for every word I know in Chinese I want to use it when I think/speak in English.

Random...hearing about pound cake in China is really weird. I don't even have an oven in my apartment. Speaking of trying to make pork chops without an oven is very difficult. Dinner was a total mishap. I can't figure out why the stove top randomly increases temperature. That is super annoying and I ruined my new pan!

Feb 24, 2013

Back in the Saddle!

It's been 5 years since I last lived in 中国 or China。A week ago, I would have said, "Eh, it'll be ok to go back" and was a bundle of nerves and not particularly excited.  I was leaving behind my family, my friends, and the love of my life, John.  After being back for a few days, however, I am actually excited to be here.  China is always a big mystery no matter how many times I visit or live here.  Part of it has to do with my total lack of confidence in understanding and speaking Chinese.  I get this unnerving fear every time I step on that plane that I am going to be unable to communicate.  

Fortunately, this has not turned out to be true.  While my speaking ability is a bit lacking, my understanding/listening skills aren't so bad.  The first few days is the office went well and I understood at least a portion of what was being said.  In fact, several times, the team was like "What - you understood what we said!"  That was encouraging.  

So Saturday, Elaine was amazing and took me around to find an apartment and get a cell phone.  We had success!  I don't know what I would have done without her.  Then we went to Yu Yuan Park and the Bund.  It was a splendid day!

So below is my Beijing apartment and my Shanghai Apartment.  As you can tell, the Shanghai one is much nicer than the Beijing.  

Beijing Apartment

Shanghai Apartment

Sunday, I packed up from the Marriott and headed to the new apartment.  After unpacking, it was time to buy some food and some various sundries for the place (pots, pans, plates, forks, knives, etc).  Of course, going to a big grocery store in Jing'An was more expensive than going to the near by places close to my apartment.  I think I made one shop keepers day by spending about $20.

After getting settled in, it was time my first Chinese massage!  It was amazing!  It's also right next door to my apartment building and they do cupping for $10!  This is WAYYY less expensive than physical therapy by about 20 times!  Tomorrow night--cupping is on!

It's getting late and it took me about 2 hours to get Blogger to work, pictures uploaded, and the like.  More to come later.